How should the city of Bend sell property? Should anyone be able to bid? What if the property has a tenant? Should a tenant get first dibs?
The reason we ask is the city may sell off the property it owns at 24 NW Kansas Ave. The current tenant is the Central Oregon Environmental Center. The center asked to buy it. The Bend City Council voted Wednesday night 5-2 to have City Manager Eric King negotiate with the center. The motion said the minimum purchase price would be $60 per square foot.
Councilors Bill Moseley and Justin Livingston voted against it.
Is it a good deal? Is the city being the best steward of public dollars?
Perhaps. The answer depends a lot on how you weigh different factors. But the decision to sell the property without putting it out for bid invites scrutiny.
The environmental center wants the property, in part, because it aims to grow. It could use the room to add offices and additional meeting space. Many community groups and nonprofits already use its meeting room, so there is arguably some public benefit.
The first question is: How much is the property worth?
That’s not easy to determine, of course, without it being sold. This 5,000 some square feet property is located near Troy Field and between the center and a parking lot. It’s zoned commercial. It’s been used for community gardens. An appraisal conducted by Bratton Appraisal Group for the environmental center of comparable property found values between $32 a square foot and $53 a square foot. Are those properties truly comparable? Maybe. The property does have some potential complications. The adjacent parking lot caps an area that underwent an environmental clean up, Mike Riley, executive director of the environmental center, told us.
Moseley told his fellow councilors he believed the way the sale was being done was unethical, though not illegal. He did not believe it was right to sell off the property without competitive bidding. He also said other comparable properties have sold for as much as $20 more per square foot. Livingston said he was voting against the sale because the city did not need to sell it now. For instance, it could be sold later nearer to the end of the center’s lease.
Another consideration is the work of the environmental center. The organization has been a strong partner with the city in helping it achieve environmental goals and in developing transportation policies. Should that carry some weight?
Mayor Sally Russell told us it was very important for her that the city get a fair price for the property. And the $60 per square foot is somewhere in the middle of the estimates the city heard for the property.
Perhaps nobody can argue that the city would be selling the property at a low price. Is it as high a price as the city might get? Bend residents will never know if the property is not sold through a bidding process.